Monday, July 29, 2013

Drinking Cheap Wine and Making Romance

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Ry Cooder, Get Rhythm. It wouldn't be quite right to call this overflowing gumbo of a record self-effacing; Cooder's signature guitar sounds, both the crunchy-electric-blues bark and the fragrant acoustic filigrees, are all over it, as are his dusky, idiomatic baritone vocals. And his unique taste and vision--what might be called his Afro-Mexi-Caribbean-rockabilly take on the blues--infuses every note. But this is not a guitar hero's showcase; there are no long jams or face-burning solos, and only one instrumental track, the twangy Keltner/Cooder groove "Low-Commotion." Instead, this is a bandleader's record, a lovingly curated, perfectly cast revue of feisty, not-at-all-fusty roots music--old weird Americana dipped deeply in Gulfcoast salt-water, bayou cattails, and borderland dust.

With one exception, the songs are all exuberant romps ostensibly about music or partying or sex, with Cash and Presley as tentpoles, from a "Get Rhythm" that's refashioned as zydeco gospel to "All Shook Up" made over as a sweaty Delta stomp. (Chuck Berry is also de- and reconstructed with a masterful acoustic version of "13 Question Method.") The exception to all this revelry is a reverie, and one that makes explicit the album's underlying theme of boundary hopping. In "Across the Borderline," Cooder (with Jim Dickinson and John Hiatt) wrote a kind of tragic spiritual, a song analogizing immigrants' dashed dreams of a better life to all of our noble but doomed higher aspirations. And in this definitive version, flowing gently but inexorably along like the Rio Grande that is its central setting, it is as heartrendingly beautiful as the rest of the record is heedlessly jovial.

The takeaway of this juxtaposition--this beach cocktail with a slight sting--might be summed up by a faux-calypso song Cooder ought to cover one day: Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.

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